To excavate, or the act of excavating, comes to mind as if going to rare exotic places; archeologists finding rare bones aged more than a million years old. Unlike the first connotation, rarely does it come to mind to excavate the memories of one’s own past. Whether it’s avoided because it’s intimidating or outright scary, Wendy Ortiz bravely and unapologetically excavates painful memories of her past and serves them up in an honest memoir of private thoughts and a diverse spectrum of emotions.
In the midst of puberty, Wendy goes through her teen years with minimal parental supervision due to the debilitating nature of alcohol in her home. Wendy is forced to keep parts of her life secret, especially when commencing a life altering romantic relationship with her school teacher.
Ortiz’s accounts of her relationship with her eighth grade English teacher, Jeff Ivers, dominates the content of her memoir, though the most astounding aspect of the novel is her ability to slowly regain control of her life, apart from Ivers. From the initial descriptions of their relationship, it becomes clear that Ortiz depends on Jeff for emotional support, although in no way is their relationship healthy. As the years go by, Ortiz begins to realize the flaws of such a dominant relationship and creates her own persona. Her realization of such is presented in multiple stages throughout the novel. In doing so, she masterfully creates a powerful scene of reclaiming one’s own power without being didactic or directly counseling her readers. In this manner, Ortiz allows her story to be heard and told without embellishment.
The memoir shifts from Ortiz’s teen years to her life as an adult, where she reflects on the occurrences as a young adult and celebrates her freedom, flaws, and her new-found self. As a young adult, the memoir unapologetically recounts her relationship with Ivers as it happened. Because of this, Ortiz is able to effectively and fluently place us back in time and re-live those scenes with her.
One of the many strengths Ortiz possesses is to swiftly inject emotion into her writing. At one point in her memoir she writes, “Opening up my journals feel like a dig. I wet my finger with my tongue and turn the pages.” This short passage manages to do two things: one, give us a glimpse of her emotional state as an adult and two, to further add significance to her title Excavation. Emotionally, Ortiz plays on the double entendre of “dig,” which could be taken as digging into one’s past, and “dig,” as feeling the pain of revisiting past memories. Furthermore, in the same passage, Ortiz perfectly ties in the significance of Excavation to the imagery of her personally excavating her past.
I cannot help but sing praises in written form to Ortiz for such a moving and well-written memoir. When reading the book, you feel empowered and changed by well written literature and a great story of finding self-worth.
Wendy C. Ortiz is a writer born and raised in Los Angeles. She wrote a year-long, monthly column for McSweey’s Internet Tendency and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Vol. I Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, and may other journals. She was a writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook, a rural retreat for women writers, in 2007 and 2009. She co-founded the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in 2004 and has curated and hosted since. Wendy is a parent, an adjunct faculty in creative writing, and sees clients in private practice as a registered marriage and family therapist intern. Visit her at http://www.wendyortiz.com